John 18:10-11 “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’”
To understand Peter better, maybe we can approach this episode a little like a question on Jeopardy. “If the death of God’s Son on the cross is the answer, then what is the question?” Or put it this way: “If Jesus’ death on the cross is the solution, then what is the problem?”
If my salvation, my rescue, required God himself to leave heaven, become a human being, subject himself to his own rules, keep them all perfectly, then permit himself to be unjustly arrested and condemned, submit to beatings and tortures that would have killed many, be nailed to cross and hung there to die, and be forsaken by God the Father (essentially the experience of hell), then my sins are not a minor, insignificant bending of God’s rules. Then they must be unspeakably evil, hurtful and dangerous far beyond my poor ability to measure or understand. My condition must be dead and lost far beyond my powers to help. If Jesus had to do all that, what do I think I am going to add?
It’s a little like my son’s cancer years ago. When the solution is to pump his body full of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of deadly poisons for two years, you know we have a threat that isn’t just about feeling a little sick. This problem isn’t going to be solved with just a slight adjustment to diet and exercise. Similarly, my sins put me beyond all normal expectation of help or survival. Only God’s own miraculous intervention can save me.
Unfortunately, I am not unique. I share the same condition with every other human being. That makes our whole world a lost and dying one. It’s not a house that’s a “fixer-upper,” or a boat that has sprung a leak. It is a building about to collapse under a three alarm fire. It is an ocean liner with gaping holes in the hull heading for the ocean floor.
It would be strange, wouldn’t it, to start remodeling rooms and rearranging the furniture in that burning building? It would be strange to try to upgrade your cabin in that sinking ocean liner. But that is what we are doing when we plan and live our lives as if this world were our real and lasting home. We see no farther than the education plans, the career plans, the family plans we have for ourselves in this place. We need to be more concerned with how we are going to get out with our lives, not so concerned with making our stay a comfortable one.
Jesus cross, and the horror that he suffered there, teaches us this. The solution helps us see the full extent of the problem. But that was just Peter’s problem. He didn’t want to see it. He didn’t want to believe it. He had big plans for that first class cabin on the promenade deck. Jesus’ cross took them all away. The first time Jesus openly mentioned his cross to the disciples, Peter pulled him aside and contradicted him in the strongest terms. You remember: “Never, Lord. This shall never happen to you.” And Jesus replied, “Get behind me Satan. You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.” Here, when the plan is finally going into effect, Peter has drawn his sword and will fight to prevent it from happening.
Like Peter, we need to put away our swords and stop fighting. Like Peter, we need to let Jesus drink the cup the Father has given him (as if we could prevent it, anyway). Like Peter, we need to learn to stop struggling with the cross and let Jesus lead us to accept all that it means for us. The cross may mean believing that I am sinner who cannot save himself, but it also means forgiveness for every sin and a place in God’s family as his holy child. The cross may mean that all my life and accomplishments in this world are going to come to nothing. But it also offers escape to a new life and a new world infinitely better than the one we are leaving behind.
Sometimes children fight the very things that save them–the shot with the antibiotic their bodies need, the seat belt that makes it possible to survive an accident. Sometimes even God’s children have resisted the very thing that saves them–the cross, and all that means for our sin and for our world. Stop struggling. Let the cross do its work. Life is waiting on the other side.